Delores Handy: 'I Have Had A Box Seat On History'

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I never expected this in my lifetime.

I'm a product of the Jim Crow south.

I grew up with the white and colored drinking fountains.

The white and colored restrooms.

The whites only restaurants.

I grew up in a city where even those restaurants that catered to people of both races had to have separate dining rooms. Even black owned restaurants had to provide separate facilities for blacks and whites.

And I won’t talk about the differences between the whites only and colored only facilities.

When I was a little girl we would sometimes go to the movies on Sunday afternoons, after church. We had to go to the Gem Theatre on 9th Street. That was the black theater. The Capital, the Center, and the Arkansas were theatres in the heart of downtown, but they were for whites only. What's interesting is that whites could come to 9th Street and the Gem Theatre, to the black side. Yet, we could not go to whites only venues.

One of my most vivid images of those days is captured in a "No Whites Allowed" sign at the zoo in a book of photos from noted photographer Ernest Withers. That sign was up on the one day of the week that Coloreds could go to the zoo.

[sidebar title="Hear also:" align="right" width="200"]Handy speaks with Here & Now's Robin Young.[/sidebar]

I grew up in a time when my parents had to pay a poll tax to vote. The tax was 2-dollars. I knew of people who worked for only 3-dollars a day. Paying two dollars to vote, when election day was months away, was not something many could or would be willing to do.

Even after the Civil Rights Voting Act was signed July 2, 1964, there was the matter of who to vote for. Once you got beyond the top of the ticket, your choices were between the Faubuses and the Cherrys, segregationists trying to out-do each other in their efforts to deny my family full rights as a citizen.

2-4-6-8, we don't want to integrate. I remember the angry mobs. Grown-ups and their children spewing hate.

It was all so painful and the pain lasted for such a long time. The fallout even continues to this day. I submit to you it's worth it.

When we were separate, you didn't know us. We knew you, we cleaned your houses, cooked your meals and cared for your children.

You never saw our homes, you didn't know how we lived. You marveled at our strength in times of crisis.

Now, for many Americans there is no you and there is no us. Our children play together. We work together. It all began when we started going to school together, getting to know each other, learning to respect and trust each other.

A black man running for president that’s a direct consequence of us knowing each other.

There still are far too many people who look at each other and make judgments about competence, and virtue, based on the melanin in the skin or the tightness of the curl in the hair.

It was disheartening to be down south over the summer and hear people say they were not registered to vote and weren't going to register. Their explanation--"There's no point in me voting, they are just going to put who they want in anyway."

Yet, attitudes have and are changing. While it's clear they have a long way to go, what we have in this election is something we all prayed for, but never expected to live to see.

We now recognize that acceptance is directly proportional to how much we've gotten to know each other.

Our headlines are filled with examples showing just how far we have to go, but this presidential election is testament to how far we've come.

As a reporter I feel as though I have had, as one of my friends would say, a box seat on history.

This program aired on November 4, 2008.

Headshot of Delores Handy

Delores Handy Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.



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